The Chiefs have won six straight games, their last a 34-20 victory coming on the road against division rival Oakland last Sunday, winning by an impressive average of 18.8 points.
Today, they would like to make it seven as they return to the NFL’s loudest stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers, who at 3-9 (wins coming over NFL powerhouses Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cleveland) are fighting more for draft position than playoff seeding in a jumbled AFC playoff picture. San Diego has gotten another solid season from QB Philip Rivers (3,713 passing yards, 23 TD), but with a nonexistent rushing attack to go along with an offensive line in shambles and a porous defense, San Diego has fallen hard from their old position as one of the AFC’s best. The Chiefs routed the Chargers 33-3 just three weeks ago, and much of the same is expected this time around.
Kansas City has scored 29 or more points in five straight games. Their ability to move the ball offensively and end drives with points has been a huge part in their revival. Who scores them doesn’t matter. Spencer Ware (5 TD’s) and Charcandrick West (3) have paced the Chiefs on the ground, giving KC speed and power along with solid hands out of the backfield. In the November win over the Chargers, Ware rushed for 96 yards and two scores. Expect the Chiefs to find success on the ground once more against a unit that is susceptible. Also spurring the offense is a newfound strength of Alex Smith: deep passing. In the last three games, his average yards per pass attempt (YPA) has been no lower than 8.5 yards. That number is significant because it shows a quarterback finding receivers downfield for big gains, rather than short gains turned into long plays. WR Jeremy Maclin, who leads the team with 867 receiving yards and 5 scores, has gained 255 yards with three scores on 18 catches over the last two weeks (14.1 YPC). His last matchup with Chargers CB Jason Verrett yielded just 35 yards, but with the streak he’s been on, I expect Maclin to have a much bigger day.
Defensively, KC shut down Philip Rivers in the last showing, holding him to just 179 passing yards. This time around, they’ll be without pass rusher Justin Houston (7.5 sacks), Hussein Abdullah in the secondary and Mike DeVito up front. Thanks to the attention the younger Houston has been drawing, the veteran Tamba Hali has performed well, recording 6.5 sacks (2.0 in the last meeting vs SD) this season. Today, he’ll have to continue his resurgence without Houston. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Sean Smith are having solid seasons, and will be needed to keep Stevie Johnson and Malcolm Floyd at bay. Neither recorded a pick during the November meeting, but Peters has recorded an interception in three of four games against division opponents this season. Rivers has thrown nine picks this year, but five have been returned for a TD, including Houston three weeks ago. In his last two games against the Chiefs, he does not have a touchdown, has thrown 3 INT, been sacked 10 times while the Chargers have scored just 10 points. The Chiefs defense is stacked – allowing 14.4 points per game over the last eight games after 35.0 in the first four – and with the Chargers offense boasting few playmakers, I expect them to dominate once more.
Kansas City is thundering toward the playoffs. Like the boys across from them, the world champion Royals, they are getting contributions from the littlest guys at the biggest times. Guys like West, linebacker Josh Mauga, and rookie center Mitch Morse aren’t household names, and may never be, but for this city, and this team, its their quiet determination that makes them, and this team, so dangerous.
“We knew we dug ourselves in a hole in the beginning of the year, but we’ve been battling back every week,” Mauga said. “Just working hard and believing in each other and coming out with victories. Just the character of this team. There’s a lot of heart.”
Prediction: Kansas City’s defense puts Rivers and the Chargers in a chokehold while Smith’s interception-less streak reaches 338 passes (NFL record is 358 – Tom Brady) while connecting with Jeremy Maclin for two scores to pull off a second straight season sweep of the Chargers, who have lost five straight and seven of eight inside the AFC West.
“We’re on a mission,” Maclin said.
Chiefs 27, Chargers 6